C&AL: How would you describe what has been happening in Haiti in the last months?
Tessa Mars: In the morning of June 30th, 2021, news of the overnight assassination of militant feminist, activist and journalist Antoinette Duclair and Journalist Diego Charles began spreading through Haitian communities locally and internationally. A total of 15 people were killed that night and as feelings of shock, fear, anger, and sadness rose in the hearts of those who knew and loved them, so did the certainty that these nonsensical and violent crimes would go unresolved and unpunished.
We are living through what feels like the total breakdown of our public institutions and a slow dissolution of the social fabric of our country. Insecurity levels continue rising, with gangs becoming more active and outspoken and it has become clear that the state is both unwilling and unable to reestablish a climate of safety and bring aid to those most affected by the steady decline of the economy.
On July 7th 2021, President Jovenel Moïse himself was assassinated. Nobody is safe, nobody is in control. The international community, the (illegitimate) government in power, the political parties, the opposition, the civil society are involved in a cacophony where no one will listen to the other. Meanwhile, those who profit financially from these troubled times and are taking advantage of the status quo work quietly in the shadows.
C&AL: How is the artist community of the island reacting to these events?
TM: A month after the deaths of Netty and Diego, artists and militants, friends and family came together to pay tribute, grieve together, and remember. As a community we know that staying organized and united, in protest, in conversation, through the hard times is the way to move forward. Artists and creatives, together with activists, journalists and concerned citizens strive to create spaces of solidarity and exchange where people can connect and share the hope, the courage, and the ideas.
There is a real sense that the risks are higher than ever before, that everyone who speaks or acts is a potential target. But as the risks are high so is the sense that we cannot stay fearful and suffer in silence, this cannot continue.
C&AL: What hopes or expectations do you have concerning the upcoming months on the island?
TM: The investigation into the murders and assassinations that happened in July, including that of the president, is unsurprisingly going nowhere. The insecurity, which had diminished a little afterwards is back in full force. And we are far from a political transition open to representatives of all political groups. Very little will change in a month’s time.
The biggest challenge today is to achieve what substantial citizens and politicians have been advocating for since the fall of the dictatorship in 1986: a dialogue or a national conference bringing together all the active forces of the country, to decide the future of Haiti, far from the interests of clans and parties. We need a truce and we need to start again on other bases.
This will take time but there are energies working on this. There is political awareness in certain circles of young Haitians and among the general population, ideas are being shared via social media networks even sometimes… People are starting to be more wary of the lies, the manipulations, the cold cynicism. Today it seems to me that we are facing one of the biggest challenges of our country’s history, but I truly believe that there is within us the strength to take it up and build the Haïti we want for ourselves.
Tessa Mars is a Haitian visual artist living and working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She completed her bachelor in Visual Arts in France in 2006. From 2006 to 2013 she worked as a Cultural projects coordinator at Fondation AfricAméricA. Since 2013 she has been solely focused on developping her career as an artist. Her work has been exhibited in Haïti, Canada, France, Italy and the United States.